Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Gaeilge agus Mise

I felt a slight jarring in my brain, like something was entering my ears and not quite being unravelled on the way in. It was a sound alien to my environment, and yet somehow not quite unfamiliar...

A woman was speaking in a foreign language... one that didn't sound entirely foreign. I couldn't make out many of her words until it clicked into place. She was standing in a park in the middle of East Anglia, speaking in Irish. 

As gaeilge. 

The moment that twigged in my mind, I was able to understand the basics of what she was saying. 

I spent the next hour trying to work my way up to replying to her, saying something like "An raibh tu ag labhairt as gaeilge cupla noimead รณ shin?" 

...but I couldn't do it. The words kept getting stuck in my throat. What if I said the wrong thing? I've only studied the language for six years. As any student who's done an oral exam--Irish or otherwise--will know, talking to a total stranger in a relatively unfamiliar language can be a daunting prospect. What if she overestimated my abilities and started an actual complex conversation?

I went home, of course, regretting not striking up a conversation and even just asking her where she was from. I'd reiterated what a waste it is to learn a language one will never really use. 

I also had a think about how hearing the language made me feel. 

Coming back to East Anglia has been like coming home. I finally hear people speaking in my own accent once again! But when I heard the Irish language, I felt a familiar pull. 

Where am I from? Let's look at it technically: on my father's side, I am a second generation Irish immigrant. On my mother's, third generation Irish immigrant. 

A complication arises when we look at the past six years for which I've lived in Ireland, before returning to the UK. 

Where is home?

Since arriving back in East Anglia a couple of months ago, I've had no trouble feeling at home. I settled in a lot quicker than I did after my last move, but perhaps that's down to being older and just a little bit wiser, coupled with the fact that this move was my own choice and I'm living with people who for the most part have chosen to be here too. There's more of a common ground. Rather than trying to chisel my way into groups of people that have been formed over generations, I'm just the same as everyone else. It's easier to fit in when the whole group is on the outside.

I would definitely say that there has been a sense of coming home. When I hear that Norfolk/Suffolk accent--mostly dying out in young people, but common in the older generation--I am reminded of people I knew as a child. When I sit on a bus and hear conversations about the NHS, about A levels, about anything I might see as quintessentially British, I feel comfortable and warm. I'm back.

But there was something about that snippet of Irish that tugged at my insides. Why, when I always felt so foreign to that country, am I now all of a sudden connected with it on such a personal level? Why did I suddenly become intensely aware that every drop of blood in my veins is Irish?

I have a lot of family in Ireland and a little family in England. Is home where my family is, or the extended circles of those I love? I love people in so many different places. That's actually a positive of dual nationality: you can have friends and connections in more than one place.

In truth, I don't miss my "home" (where I technically still live outside of term time) one bit. I always joked that it would be a nice place to come back to on holiday. In all honesty, at this moment in time, if my parents came to live nearby I doubt if I'd ever go back.

It would be stupid to think that won't change, however, in a month or a year's time. Feeling "in place" is always quite a delicate and precarious balance of the right friends, the right activities and something else not quite tangible. I have it right now, but there's no way of knowing how long it will last.

While I feel no sense of loss, there's definitely a sense of being part of the diaspora. I have come home and yet I have left my home. I am part of a unique group of people, that girl who spoke Gaelic  included, who belong to one country through their history or ancestry, and yet for many reasons live elsewhere. And in a way, that's special. It's something very few people understand.

Right now, I feel perfectly in place. At home.

I just wish I could speak to one person who understood how impressive it is to be related to Michael Collins. 

1 comment:

  1. As an Irish girl through and through (I even did Irish dancing for eight years of my life- never again), hearing Irish spoken anywhere that's not my classroom is strange and daunting (and a little scary because it reminds me I have an oral in just over a year). I can only imagine what it's like to hear it in England of all places!